Claiming victory at the first Championship Tour event at Strickland Bay on the island of Wadjemup (aka Rottnest Island), for the effort Fitzgibbons has climbed all the way into second place on the WSL Leaderboard, where she now sits behind the woman in the yellow jersey Carissa Moore. For Medina, he solidifies his spot atop the men's leaderboard after a dominant run at Strickland Bay.
"I'm just exhausted. I gave it everything," Fitzgibbons said after best France's Johanne Defay in the Final. "That's what surfing is all about, just playing the game and enjoying whatever happens in the heat. It feels so good to be back in that winners' circle."
"I've set those goals all year and am quietly going about them in my own manner. I just believe it's possible if I do everything in my power, some days like this everything just aligns," she continued.
Meanwhile, Medina has solidified his hold on the yellow leader's jersey with approximately 8,000 points separating him and current number two Italo Ferreira.
"I made it through a lot of tough heats and am glad to win surfing the way I want to surf. I'm so happy," Medina said afterwards. "It feels amazing to win another Search trophy all these years after my first," Medina continued. "This has been such a good start to the season for me and I'm just so happy to keep the momentum going."
Medina faced surging rookie Morgan Cibilic in the Final, who started the heat strong but got stuck playing the waiting game, holding out for a wave with high-scoring potential that never materialized. Enjoying a brilliant run through the four-stop Australian leg, Cibilic is now sitting at fifth on the WSL Leaderboard.
"Coming into these last couple of events, I've come into them with a lot of confidence and a Final hasn't felt too out of reach, but I guess if you asked me last year if I'd get a Quarterfinal, a Semifinal, and a Final finish from the four Australian events, I would have told you that you were tripping," Cibilic smiled after the Final.
Exciting Semifinals Set The Stage
To start the day, eventual winner Fitzgibbons faced Tyler Wright in a one-sided Semifinal clash. Wright's timing was off as she had uncharacteristic fell on waves that could have offered up a decent score, while Fitzgibbons applied early pressure on the two-time World Champion.
Meanwhile, in the other women's Semifinal, Defay's backhand attack was simply too much for Moore. By heat's end the four-time World Champion was in need of an excellent score, but just couldn't find the right wave.
"Something that I have learned to appreciate whilst being on Tour is discovering new places, and coming to Rottnest was like that for everyone," explained Defay on her success at Rottnest. "It was also a level playing field, which is rare for us on Tour and made it such an interesting event. I've had a strong start to the year, so I'm feeling like if I keep the confidence and momentum I have now, I can have my best finish to the year and be inside the top five."
The first men's Semifinal was one of the most exciting and unexpected we've seen throughout the Australian leg. Featuring rookie Cibilic and wildcard Liam O'Brien, it was a close, low-scoring affair which was eventually edged out by Cibilic. Both surfers are coached by former CT star Jay "Bottle" Thompson and have been training together throughout the extended off-season.
The second Semi was a full-blown superheat featuring Medina and Ferreira. In this battle of Brazilian World Champs, Medina set the pace early with an 8.50. Ferreira was never really able to counter, and like so many heats we saw on Finals Day, this one ended up being a one-sided affair.
Tour Headed To The Surf Ranch
After four events in Australia the Championship Tour will now head to the California Central Valley for the Jeep Surf Ranch Pro. This will undoubtedly continue to jostle the leaderboard and the year-end Final 5 positions. Medina and Moore are way out in front of everybody at this point, but there's still a lot of room to move as the race for the Rip Curl WSL Finals this September is only going to continue to heat up from here on out.
Day Five Coverage
Today we really saw what the wave at Strickland Bay is capable of, with long barrels and lined-up left-hand walls. And after one of the best days of surf we've seen during the Rip Curl Rottnest Search presented by Corona, an explosive Semifinals round has been locked in with more swell in the forecast. Remaning in the draw are four World Champs, a rookie and a wildcard, as well as a couple savvy veterans. And while we're down to the business end of this thing, there's still no shortage of intrigue yet to come.
Medina Vs Ferreira In The Semifinals
World no. 1 Gabriel Medina advanced to the Semifinals over Conner Coffin, who was nursing an injured knee and still managed to take it to the two-time World Champ. Medina was forced to push all the way to the final minutes to secure his advancement.
"I love competitive surfing, that was all about strategy, I felt like we weren't going to have many waves so I tried to be selective," Medina said. "I was talking to Andy [King] and we've been watching the ocean. The heat before us had a lot of waves. You always have one slow heat and the others are okay to surf. I'm lucky that was my heat. And I knew that my heat could go slow so my strategy worked."
Defending World Champion and current world no. 2 Italo Ferreira advanced as well, after a heat that basically became an air show between him and Yago Dora. He's now set up a rematch from the 2019 Pipeline event -- Ferreira will surf against Medina in the Semifinals, in what promises to be one of the most explosive heats of the entire Australian leg.
Moore Keeps Her Momentum Rolling
Continuing her impressive run this season, in a replay of their Final from Newcastle, Carissa Moore dropped a 9.5 for two very solid backhand turns against rookie Isabella Nichols in the Quarters. She'll now surf in the Semifinals against France's Johanne Defay.
"Bella and I have had a couple of match-ups this year already and she's a fired up rookie, she's very talented and confident and I was a little nervous coming up against her," Moore said.
Meanwhile, Sally Fitzgibbons booked her place in the Semifinals today with a deep backside tube on the left for which she earned an excellent-range score, moving past Malia Manuel. She'll now face two-time World Champion Tyler Wright in the Semifinal, pitting two of Australia's best surfers against one another.
Cibilic Keeps His Roll Going With Explosive Quarterfinal Performance
Not many in the surf world had heard of Morgan Cibilic a year ago, but now he's into yet another CT Semifinal. The rookie beat Julian Wilson in an all-Australian matchup, using a solid rail game that's also this leg seen John John Florence eliminated not once but twice. Could he be bound for his first event win?
"Feeling pretty comfortable, I really love it when you've got just a couple of lefts you can square up on. Today it's petty easy to read compared to the earlier days where it was a bit more stretched out," Ciblic said.
The Most Successful Wildcard Of 2021
Another surfer who made it to the Semifinals today was Wildcard Liam O'Brien, who had said yesterday in a post-heat interview that he was happy just to have made a heat at this event.
Well, now he's the most successful Wildcard of the 2021 season so far, and his run isn't even over yet -- with a full package of airs and carves, there's a chance he could win the event, but that would mean contending with giants of the sport such as Medina or Ferreira ... The last Male Wildcard to win an event was Bruno Santos in 2008 at the Billabong Pro Tahiti.
All About The Brazilian Goofy-Foots In The Men's Quarters
Earlier in the day, there were spectacular performances in the Quarterfinals from the group of Brazilian goofy-foots, who unleashed at a high-performance left. Yago Dora moved through to his third Quarterfinal of the Australian leg after finishing a heat against Connor O'Leary with the second-highest total of the season (made up in part with the highest score of this event so far), an 18.67. O'Leary was in need of a strong finish at Rottnest Island, but it would have been hard for anyone to fight back against a surfer who drops two nines.
Medina advanced after a heat against Owen Wright, sealing the deal with a lofty air, while Ferreira wasn't going to be left out, dropping two 7-point rides against friend and mentor, 2015 World Champion and fellow Brazilian Adriano de Souza.
Pupo's Best Result Since 2018
This event has become the stage for athletes in need of a good result to put it all on the line, especially with some big seeds already eliminated. Miguel Pupo did just that today, finding two nice left-hand barrels and launching a big full-rotation air reverse to move past Michel Bourez. Pupo is often overshadowed by some of the other Brazilian goofy-foots on Tour, such as Medina or Ferreira, but he reminded fans of what he's capable of, booking his first Quarterfinal since 2018.
Day Four Coverage
Only three heats were run at the Rip Curl Rottnest Search presented by Corona, but they have set the scene for some exciting matchups come Finals Day at Strickland Bay. The morning started off with fun, clean, rippable surfer before the swell started to wane and things were put on hold for the rest of the day. With a strong swell looming in the forecast, here's what went down on an abbreviated day of competition:
WIlson Enroute To Best Result Of CT Season
Julian Wilson got Jordy Smith back for a tough loss at Margaret River recently, when the South African had conceded defeat but then found a wave in the final seconds on his way in to shore on which he managed to turn the heat and eliminate the Australian. Today Wilson found the better waves and demonstrated the progressive surfing he's known for, managing to book a spot in the Quarterfinals, his first of the season.
Cibilic Makes Three of Four Australian Leg Finals
Morgan Cibilic is made it to yet another Finals Day, his third in the four-stop Australian leg of the Championship Tour. He secured his spot after a feisty heat with Italy's Leonardo Fioravanti, which included a shoulder-to-shoulder paddle battle for one of the best waves of the heat, which demonstrated Cibilic's giant-killing attitude.
Wildcard O'Brien Advances, Eliminates Moniz
In his post-heat interview, Wildcard Liam O'Brien said he was happy to even make it through a heat in this event, but rather than just scrapping by he's made it to the Quarterfinals. Given how fast he surfs and how well he can go to the air, there's every chance he could do some more damage, and move further up the draw.
More Swell On The Way
There's plenty more swell on the way, so stay tuned for the next call. Surfline says confidence continues to increase that a strong, long period SW swell will build in for early next week and this will be the largest swell of the event window. Check out the full forecast here.
Day Three Coverage
Whether it was the unpredictability of a new wave on Tour or the burning desire of some competitors to ensure their re-qualification, Day Three at the Rip Curl Rottnest Search presented by Corona saw some big upsets with several top five competitors knocked out of the draw.
Top Seeds Eliminated
Marks is no.4 in the world and had been tipped to do well at Stickland Bay, but Manuel put it all together on some of the better waves, helping to leave the field wide-open for a points grab from some of the remaining surfers.
"That was a big heat for me. One because Caroline is an incredible opponent and two I've had such an unlucky run with my 10 years of coming to Australia. I just finished the book of the Tao. It reminded me to get back to nature and what the water brings to me which is harmony, awareness and respect. I just surfed from my heart," Manual said.
Meanwhile, seven-time World Champion and current World no.3 Stephanie Gilmore was also eliminated by Nikki Van Dijk, another surfer who came to Rottnest in need of a strong result. This will be Van Dijk's first Quarterfinal all year. In her heat with Gilmore, a friend and long-time rival, Van Djik seemed to find a new gear, surfing fast and powerfully to advance.
Meanwhile, Filipe Toledo won the last event, at Margaret RIver, and he's now been eliminated by wildcard Liam O'Brien. That's good news for World no.5 Jordy Smith, who advanced today and will be looking to make a move up the rankings.
Rankings Leaders Still In The Mix
As noted, Moore was among those to advance today, booking yet another finals round in Australia. Moore has made at least the Quarterfinals in all four of the Australian leg events, and after winning at Newcastle and making the Semis at Narrabeen and Maragret River she's put herself in a good position to keep a solid grip on the Yellow Jersey.
Meanwhile, fellow World No.1 Gabriel Medina was once again one of the most dynamic surfers of the day, launching airs on the left and the right. They were not scored as high as the excellent ride for two big airs on a single wave on Day One, but it was still enough to move past wildcard Kael Walsh.
"It was hard to surf, the waves are kinda hard, I don't know if it's the tide or the wind … it looks nice but it's hard to surf. I don't like these tight heats but hopefully it was just that one and hopefully we've got more waves on the way," Medina said after the wildcard took him to task.
Italo Ferreira is also through, and up to his old tricks: The defending World Champion hucked a huge backside air reverse which he had no right to make, yet somehow stayed attached to his board. Alas, falling saw him penalized by the judges, earning a mid-six score for one of the most critical moves see all day.
"That was a long day, I woke up too early today at 4:30 and I had a first session and then waited for my heat, I was excited because there's a lot of opportunity out there," Ferreira said.
Jordy Keeps Momentum Going, Wilson Finds Form
As mentioned earlier, Smith advanced today. His surfing was vintage stuff from the South African, reminiscent of some of his breakthrough video parts. He took to the air and found a nice rhythm on the rights, while also drawing out his carves a little longer than his opponent, Stu Kennedy. Smith went near the excellent range with a 7.67, and this performance is a continuation of a rich vein of form that also saw the CT Veteran make the finals at Margaret River.
Meanwhile, Julian Wilson dropped one of the highest scoring waves of the day, an 8.33. Julian, part of Australia's Olympic team, is another surfer used to being in the World Title conversation who, at no.17 in the world, needs a good result here at Rottnest Island.
Women's Quarters Set, Men Moving Into The Round Of 16
When we return, Carissa Moore will be up against Rookie Isabella Nichols who has been surfing very strong -- could we see one of the biggest upsets of the Australian leg? There's also another all-Australian super heat with Nikki Van Dijk, fresh off eliminating Stephanie Gilmore, up against another World Champion in Tyler Wright.
Amuro Through to the Quarterfinals
Amuro Tsuzuki is the first Japanese woman to surf on the Championship Tour in over 20 years, and today, after heading to Australia and spending two weeks in hotel quarantine with no guarantee of a Wildcard spot, she made it through to the Quarterfinals with an excellent ride, an 8.33.
Day Two Coverage
On a day that only saw six heats surfed, there were some big names in the Elimination Round, and it ended better for some than others. Tatiana Weston-Webb placed second and then first in the previous two events, but today the World No.2 was eliminated after her heat with Nikki Van Dijk and Mia McCarthy.
Weston-Webb Out Handed Unexpected Early Exit At Rottnest
Coming off of a win at Margaret River and a runner-up finish at Narrabeen, Weston-Webb has been on a hot one throughout the extended Australian leg. But that momentum came crashing to a halt in the Elimination Round of the Rip Curl Rottnest Search presented by Corona. In a slow heat without a lot of big scoring opportunities, Weston-Webb tried to be patient and play the waiting game, but ultimately came up short when the horn sounded.
"It is really slow out there this morning; I think the ocean needs a coffee," joked Van Dijk, who took the heat win and will now face seven-time World Champ Stephanie Gilmore in the Round of 16.
Colapinto Rises To The Occasion Against Hero Burrow
Griffin Colapinto was another form surfer who found himself in the Elimination Round. And after a tough one morning in which his bike break down and he buckled his favorite board, Colapinto bounced back with a strong showing on one of the best waves of the round.
On one of the biggest lefts all morning, he came so hard off the bottom his fins were clearly visible as he went top to bottom for a 7-point score. It was enough to propel him to victory over one of his idols, Taj Burrow, who was surfing as a wildcard.
"We were just talking story before the heat, there was no pressure," Colapinto said of surfing against Burrow, a CT legend who has inspired countless young surfers. "I was asking about the boards he was riding and all of that, what's going on his life, It just felt like we were having a freesurf," the Californian said.
Colapinto is currently no.6 in the world, and if he keeps surfing as well as he is, it is easy to imagine him within the Final Five as we head towards the first-ever Rip Curl WSL Finals, where the World Title will be decided with a single day of surfing.
Right-Handers Highly Prized On Day 2
Isabella Nichols surfed one of the most commanding heats of the day, finishing with a 13.33 heat total. It seemed like the smaller rights were working better, and coming more often, and the young Australian made the most of them with solid forehand turns.
"Recently I haven't had a strong start in my heats so that felt really nice," Nichols said. "I've been eying those rights off for the last week since we got here. It was going to be a tough heat and I just managed to snag the right waves at the right time."
Bronte Macaulay, surfing after the recent tragic passing of her brother Jack, also advanced through this heat, booking another match up against Nichols in the Round of 16.
Another surfer making the most of the rights was South Africa's Matthew McGillivray. He waited until the buzzer of his heat against Jeremy Flores and Liam O'Brien to find the highest-scoring wave. He held his nerve and found a perfectly tapered right, sending veteran Flores out of the event -- the last of the Australian leg -- with a 33rd place.
"It was nerve-wracking and I got given a gift at the end there," he said. "It's tricky conditions with it being so slow, you have to be patient.
"It was a dream wave and I'm really grateful for that," McGillivray said.
Intriguing Matchups Coming Up
The Men's Round of 32 and Women's Round of 16 are now set, and there's some big match-ups to look forward to. This is the last event of the four-stage Australian leg and we're now halfway through the season, meaning there are surfers in desperate need of a good result who will be doing everything they can to stay on Tour.
As noted Gilmore will face friend and rival Van Dijk, pitting two of Australia's best surfers against each other. In another all-Australian heat, Sally Fitzgibbons will meet Macy Callaghan. Callaghan has been surfing very strong, and was eliminated in some of the previous events despite clocking up the highest scores of her career.
On the Men's side, the winner of the recent Boost Mobile Margaret River Pro presented by Corona Filipe Toledo will be up against Wildcard Liam O'Brien. Toldeo is coming off a win at Margaret River and has, at times, appeared unstoppable in the small stuff in Australia.
See the full heat draw here.
Day One Coverage
Search events are great equalizers. Instead of spending weeks warming up at a tried-and-true venue, surfers have to adapt on the fly at a special, off-the-beaten-track wave they're unfamiliar with and this was evident on Day One of the Rip Curl Rottnest Search presented by Corona.
As the heats progressed, the surfers in the later rounds had gathered some extra insight into Strickland Bay, having only had a handful of warm ups there, and slowly but surely what appeared at times to be a challenging lineup was dialed in.
There were fast and hollow two-to-four foot lefts and rights racing along the reef, and while many heats were low scoring affairs there were many moments when the potential of this high-performance wave was unlocked, with huge airs and deep barrels.
World Number Ones, Top Seeds Advance
"I was stoked I found some waves, the heat before was super slow. I knew they were going to come in our heat," Medina said in his post-heat interview.
"It's been tricky, you know ... It looks like it's a left-hander but there are some rights, too. I am happy to get the rhythm and get to know the wave. Hopefully I can continue making heats and get to learn more," he added.
Meanwhile, fellow Yellow Jersey holder Carissa Moore -- surfing her 100th Championship Tour event -- cruised through her Seeding Round heat with a 9.50 awarded for two of the most powerful turns seen all day.
"I had no idea I was up at that number and I guess you lose track when you're having fun," Moore said of the milestone.
"It felt really good to get it [an excellent-range score] in the first heat, sometimes they're the most nerve wracking ones, you're still figuring out the lineup and how you're feeling for the rest of the event," said Moore.
Big Names In The Elimination Round
There are some exciting match-ups set for when the event resumes, with some big names relegated to the Elimination Round. For the men, one of the form surfers of the Australian leg, Griffin Colapinto, will go up against Taj Burrow and Jack Freestone.
Meanwhile, Tatiana Weston-Webb -- who won the most recent event at Margaret River and placed second at Narrabeen -- will also have to surf through an Elimination Round heat to keep her run going.
Smith Stays Hot At Strickland Bay
Jordy Smith finished runner-up at the Boost Mobile Margaret River Pro presented by Corona, and seems to have brought that form to Rottnest Island. He looked especially comfortable on the rights at Strickland Bay, comfortably beating Wade Carmichael, as well as Wildcard Stu Kennedy, who will need to contend with the Elimination Round to keep his campaign going.
Backhand Masterclass In The Women's Seeding Round
Two of California's best surfers (and rivals) Sage Erickson and Courtney Conlogue both put on a backhand masterclass in their respective heats, while Australia's Sally Fitzgibbons also matched Erickson in one of the highest-scored match-ups of the day.
Johanne Defay has been the form backhand surfer of the Australian leg, and she was strong today too, as was Tyler Wright, who had hinted at some apprehension going right back at Narrabeen but looked especially strong on the lefts at Strickland Bay.
Bourez Scores Barrel Of The Day
Proving just how good this wave can be, Michel Bourez found a deep, long barrel on the left. With the tide running out and the swell hitting the reef nicely, he spent almost the length of the entire wave in the tube and then tagged the end section with a solid turn for the highest score of the day, a 9.63.
Bourez faced Brazil's Yago Dora and Caio Ibelli in the heat, and while his tube ride was impressive, Dora still managed to get the win with an excellent 8.23 and 7.93, relegating Ibelli to the Elimination Round.
ADS Wins With One Wave
To highlight the challenges faced by even some of the most experienced surfers in the field, 2015 World Champion Adriano de Souza won his heat against defending World Champion Italo Ferreira and wildcard (and legend of Australian surfing) Taj Burrow with just a single wave, a 6.50. A low-scoring heat all round, Ferreira also advanced with just a 5.83 heat total. Meanwhile, Burrow sent to the Elimination Round with just a 0.70 heat total.